Best hot spring in Gunma prefecture, Kusatsu or Ikaho?

Gunma Prefecture has 100 hot spring areas and 453 different sources. In addition, the amount of natural hot spring water is #1 in Japan and it is considered to be hot spring heaven. This time, I will help you decide which of Gunma Prefecture’s famous hot springs, Kusatsu or Ikaho, is suitable for you. Now, Let me introduce the differences between them.
If you want to know the recommended hotels, please click here.


Amount and number of hot spring sources

Kusatsu: Biggest amount of natural hot spring water

Kusatsu is one of Japan’s top 3 famous hot springs (Arima Onsen, Gero Onsen, and Kusatsu Onsen). Kusatsu boasts an output of 32,300 liters (8,532 gallons) per minute. With abundant hot springs, you can fully enjoy fresh hot spring water at accommodations and day-trip hot spring facilities. There are 7 main hot spring sources in Kusatsu, but all of them are unusually acidic hot spring water with a pH around 2. Because it is strongly acidic, you may feel a slight tingling sensation, but you can feel that your skin becomes smoother. In addition, the warm feeling of the body lasts for a long time after bathing. It is truly a hot spring that is effective for refreshing the body.

Ikaho: A historic hot spring resort

Ikaho is known as a historic hot spring resort that was mentioned in Manyoshu, which is the oldest anthology of the poems from the 8th century. There are two main hot spring sources in Ikaho, the gold source (Kogane no Yu) and the silver source (Shirogane no Yu). Between them, the source that has been around for the longest is the gold source (Kogane no Yu). It contains a lot of iron, and when the iron comes into contact with the air, it oxidizes, turning it into a golden brown hot spring. It is also said to be good for getting pregnant because it gradually warms you up.

Unfortunately, the gold source is a small amount and can only be used at traditional inns. If you want to enjoy the gold source at an accommodation, I recommend checking the source beforehand on the website.

The newly discovered silver source is classified as a hot spring due to its high concentration of metasilicic acid, but the temperature of the source is low and you cannot bathe without heating. In addition, it does not contain many other hot spring substances, and some people have a harsh impression that it feels like mineral water. Therefore, when choosing accommodations or hot spring facilities in Ikaho, I recommend the places which use the gold source.

If you want to fully enjoy the strongly acidic fresh flowing hot springs, I recommend Kusatsu. If you want to visit a historic hot spring resort or are concerned about skin irritation, choose Ikaho.

Day trip hot spring facilities

Kusatsu: Sainokawara Onsen, an overwhelming sense of freedom

Kusatsu has plenty of day trip hot spring facilities. The large day-trip bathing hot springs such as “Sainokawara Onsen”, “Gozanoyu”, and “Otakinoyu” are definitely worth visiting. Among the many day trip hot springs, the one that I will focus on this time is “Sainokawara Onsen”.

It is a large outdoor hot spring with a total area of 500 square meters (5,400 square feet), where you can enjoy an overwhelming sense of openness in the midst of nature. The source is called Bandaiko, which contains a lot of metasilicic acid (a skin-beautifying ingredient contained in moisturizing lotions), so you should be able to feel your skin become smooth after bathing. It is a strong acid with a pH of 1.5.
The other day trip bathing facilities “Gozanoyu” and “Otakinoyu” are also very fulfilling hot spring facilities. At Gozanoyu, you can enjoy two hot spring sources, Yubatake and Bandaiko. At Otakinoyu you can try traditional bathing method called “Awaseyu”, which means you start with a low-temperature bath and gradually get used to it before entering a hotter one. (See how hot you can go with the hot springs!)
Each of the three day trip hot spring facilities has its own characteristics, so I recommend that you purchase the special ticket that allows you to visit all three.

Ikaho: Ikaho open-air bath, like a secluded hot spring

There are many hotels where you can take a day-use bath in Ikaho, but there are also famous day trip facilities such as Ikaho Rotenburo, Ikaho Onsen Ishidan no Yu, and Kogane no Yukan. First, I will introduce Ikaho Rotenburo, which is an open-air bath with a flowing golden hot spring source.

There are two types of bath temperature, hot and lukewarm water. This place is not that big, but it has the atmosphere of a secluded hot spring in the mountains. However, although it is said to be a flowing hot spring, it does not have the same amount of steadily flowing hot water like Kusatsu. The atmosphere is that of a secluded and quiet hot spring. This is my personal impression, but I felt that the Kusatsu day-trip hot spring facilities have more fresh water than Ikaho.

Both have day-trip hot spring facilities, but Kusatsu has more day-trip hot springs with different sources and tastes. If you want to fully enjoy the fresh flowing hot springs, I recommend Kusatsu, which has a large amount of hot water.
However, the Ikaho open-air bath has an atmosphere like a secret hot spring, and you can bathe in golden hot spring source, so it is a place you definitely want to visit when traveling to Ikaho.

Tourist attractions

Kusatsu: Yubatake

Kusatsu’s biggest sightseeing spot is Yubatake. It means a field of hot springs. There are footbaths, souvenir shops, sweets shops and restaurants around Yubatake, so you can have fun around there. In addition, it’s fantastically beautiful when lit up at night.

Right next to Yubatake, there is Atsunoyu, where the Yumomi shows take place. Yumomi is a performance from the Edo period which involves stirring hot spring water while singing a song. Kusatsu Onsen is more than 50°C (122°F), so you can’t bathe in it. If they add water to lower the temperature, the effect of the hot spring will be diluted, so instead they stir the water to a lower temperature with wooden boards about 180 cm (6 feet) long.

Ikaho: Stone steps

The symbol of Ikaho is the Stone steps. On both sides of the 365 stone steps, there are souvenir shops, sweets shops, shooting galleries, footbaths, etc. so you can enjoy your walk up the street. Also, when you look up at the stone steps from below, you can feel the atmosphere of a good old hot spring resort.

Foot bath

It’s a photogenic spot for wearing yukata from your Japanese inn. In addition, at the top of the stone steps, you can go to Ikaho Shrine, and if you go further, you can find the Ikaho open-air bath.

Kusatsu’s Yubatake and Yumomi show, which I recommend to see at least once, can be enjoyed very much. On the other hand, in Ikaho you can enjoy walking around the historic hot spring town, feeling like you traveled back in time.

Meal (lunch)

Many people tend to have dinner and breakfast at their accommodation, so I would like to introduce mainly lunch here.

Kusatsu: Soba

There are many restaurants of various genres near Yubatake. Here, I will introduce my favorite soba and maitake mushroom tempura. Hakukotei, a soba and udon restaurant that has been in business for over 100 years in Kusatsu, is a popular restaurant that often has lines. When I visited, I waited in line for about 30 minutes, but the fragrant maitake mushroom tempura was delicious.

Ikaho: Mizusawa Udon

Ikaho is famous for Mizusawa udon, one of the top three udon in Japan (Sanuki udon, Inaniwa udon, and Mizusawa udon). Mizusawa udon is characterized by its translucent and smooth noodles. But I also would like you to visit a luxurious udon restaurant! Some restaurants have Kabuto, sword and artworks.

In Kusatsu, I recommend the soba noodles and maitake mushroom tempura near Yubatake. In Ikaho, I highly recommend Mizusawa udon.

Access from Tokyo


The “Limited Express Kusatsu” is convenient for getting to Kusatsu Onsen from Tokyo. From Ueno Station, stop at Akabane Station and go to Nagano Kusatsuguchi. It takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes from Ueno Station. It takes about 25 minutes by bus from Nagano Kusatsuguchi to Kusatsu Onsen. It is very convenient because the bus departs according to the arrival time of the limited express Kusatsu.
You can get there by limited express Kusatsu and bus in a total of about 3 hours for about 6,000 yen. If you want to reduce transportation costs even more, there are also high way buses from Shibuya, Shinjuku, Tokyo Station, etc. Depending on the schedule, you can travel one-way for about 3,000 yen.


The train “Limited Express Kusatsu” is also convenient when going from Tokyo to Ikaho Onsen. Change to a bus at Shibukawa station and arrive at Ikaho Onsen in just over 2 hours. The price is less than 5,000 yen. If you use the highway bus, there are days when you can get there from Tokyo Station for less than 2,000 yen one way.

Result announcement! Which is better, Kusatsu Onsen or Ikaho Onsen?

People who Kusatsu is suitable for…

  • want to fully enjoy the fresh flowing hot springs
  • want to see or participate in the yumomi show

People who Ikaho is suitable for…

  • want to enjoy the historic townscape
  • like hot springs that are gentle on the skin
  • are not worried about leg strength (not worried about going up and down stone steps)

When I want to fully refresh myself in a hot spring, I would visit Kusatsu Onsen, and when I want to feel like I have travelled back in time, I would pick Ikaho.

Popular inns in Kusatsu and Ikaho

Finally, I would like to introduce my recommended, popular inns in Kusatsu and Ikaho. Every inn has its own charm, so it is recommended that you choose an inn that suits your purpose.

Popular inns in Kusatsu

Recommended for couples!
La Vista Kusatsu Hills

A hotel on a hill with an open-air hot spring bath. Private baths are available at any time. For adult dates, you can enjoy a full-course Western meal, which is rare in Kusatsu.

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Recommended for adult group trips!
Hotel Ichii

This hotel is the closest to Yubatake, and some rooms have a view of it. The large communal bath has been renewed!

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Recommended for family trips!
Hotel Sakurai

This hotel has three sources of hot springs in the large public bath. Both children and adults can enjoy it with a Yumomi experience and a drum show.

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Popular inns in Ikaho

When visiting Ikaho Onsen, I recommend staying at a hotel or inn that has the golden (kogane) hot spring source. There are many Japanese style inns in the Ikaho area, but there are just eight inns with the golden source, and only five of them have both golden and silver (shirogane) sources. Here I will introduce three hotels and inns where you can enjoy both hot spring sources.

Good hospitality!
Oyado Tamaki

Two minutes walk from the stone steps (main street in Ikaho). You can enjoy views of the stone steps from the room. This inn has meticulous hospitality.

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Historical inn!

This inn is at the 285th step of the stone step street. They have a private bath where you can enjoy the golden hot spring source. Some rooms have a terrace with a view of the garden, and some have an open-air bath.

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Recommended for families or group trips
Hotel Matsumotoro

15 minutes walk from the stone steps, barrier-free, baby friendly inn. There are spacious guest rooms that can be used by families or groups.

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